I recently read (finally) Siba Shakib’s well-known novel Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep. It is a story about Shirin-Gol, Afghan woman who was just a young girl when her village was levelled by the Russians’ bombs in 1979. We follow her life from her teenage years to her adulthood – going from one refugee camp to antoher, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Pakistan to Iran and back to Afghanistan. And all of that before the US invasion (the book was published in 2002). Who knows what happened to Shirin-Gol later…
Siba Shakib is an Iranian-German filmmaker and writer, and she spent many years working in Afghanistan. This book (she was just finishing it when the attack on World Trade Center happened) was a result of her ‘story-collecting’ ventures in Afghanistan. Seeing all the suffering, particularly the burden women carry on their shoulders, she decided to write this book. This is a story about Shirin-Gol, but it is, at the same time, a story about millions of Afghan women (and men) and their endless suffering.
The book was fast-paced and simply written, it really felt like listening to Shirin-Gol’s story. You may feel there’s some depth missing from the story, you may look for more explanation, but this book will not provide you with that. I don’t think it lacks quality for that reason. This was meant to be a book written the only way war (often) allows us to write and tell stories – with not much time to reflect on things, with constant changes and adaptation to new circumstances.
That is why, when things settle down, when the defence mechanism is down, when you are finally at peace for a while – you start feeling the pain kicking in. It is like Khaled Juma wrote about his experience in Gaza: “I recall that after the 2012 war, many people said to me: ‘It is strange that we did not feel scared during the war, but after it finished we feel terrified.’ This is precisely the concept of ‘crisis storage.'”
Unlike many foreign authors who write about Afghanistan (and other war-torn countries) Siba Shakib doesn’t make this book about herself, about her journey through the demolished country. The focus is were it should be – on the victims, the Afghan people. Shakib lets them speak through his book.
Although I read a lot about Afghanistan and its people, it’s always incredible how much suffering can fit into one lifetime, one body, one heart. It is incredible how people can endure it, how they go on, how they survive. We must pay respect to their courage and we must be aware of their pain. This book doesn’t exist for us (by us I mean people who don’t live in a war-torn country) to feel better about our lives, this book exists so that we could do something about them (by them I mean people who are suffering, people caught in the horrors of war). Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep is only a tiny part of the big Afghanistan puzzle, but it is worthy of attention – read it.
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